Tk CeifeierMe States iafy
Yard at Clarbtte, i. C
%dJr t a
1 Notes — This article appeared in the
' Charlotte News; June 5th, 1910 — im-
mediately after the unveiling of the
Kavy Yard Marker. It is re-printed
by request of many who wish to place
j this date on file. Hon. Josephus Dan-
liels, Secretary of the Navy, visited
jthe site of the Charlotte Navy Yard
In May 1914 — and this has arroused
a new and wider interest in its his-
VIOLET G. ALEXANDER.
The great development of historic
activity in North Carolina during the
last few years has been accompanied
by the ripening of a taste for histori-
cal research a,nd for the collection of
matter bearing on county, as well as
state and national history; and with
this desire to preserve our county and
state history has come the patriotic
desire to mark disK-ric places within
our own borders^ *j,o that strangers
and guests in e&ca succeeding gen-
eration may know the patriotism,
courage, bravery and true worth
of North Carolina's sons and daugh-
ters, from the Colonial, Revolutionary
and Confederate periods, even down
to the present day.
Much of Mecklenburg's and Char-
lotte's splendid Colonial and Revolu-
tionary ristory has been preserved
and some of her historic places of
those days have been marked, but her
part in the Southern Confederacy,
when ous sons and daughters were
one united people in their sacrifice,
heroism, bravery and courage, has not
j received the recognition .due her,— so
;the Stonewall Jackson Chapter U. D.
C. through the Interest of one of
its members, Miss Violet G. Alexander
has turned its attention to the history
of the Charlotte Navy Yard, and has
marked wih, an appropriate iron mark-
er the site of the Confederate Navy
Yard, which was established in Char-
lotte in the spring of 1862 and operat-
ed until 1S65. The iron marker placed
'by the Stonewall Jackson Chapter,
U. p. C, is a navy shield surrounded
by sea anchors .with this inscription
in gold letters on a black background:
"Confederate States Navy Yard,
Charlotte, N. C.
This marker is placed on the corner
of the brick building of vhe S- A.«-L.
freight depot, on East Trade street as
this is the site of the former Navy
Yard. The ^tablet was designed by a
committee "appointed by the U. D. C.
composed of Miss Violet Alexander
and Mrs. B. D. Heath and it was cast
and placed by the Mecklenourg Iron
Works, J. Frank Wilkes, manager.
The tablet was unveiled by the Stone-
wall Jtickson U. D. C. on June 3, 1910,
which is President Jefferson Davis'
birthdaj- — a day of special veneration
and observance in the South — Mrs.
Stonewall Jackson life-president of the
Chapter, graced the occasion with her
presence, and large numbers of veter-
ans of the Mecklenburg Camp of Con-
federate veterans the Stone-
: wall Jackson Chapter, U. D. C
Chapter of Children of Confederacy,
the stonewall Jackson chapter U. D. C.,
as well as many patriotic citizens
were present. A splendid program was
provided, Hon- E. R. Preston made an
appropriate and patriotic speech —
"Dixie" and other loved Southern
songs were sung and prayer and the
benediction were said.
Miss Violet Alexander, as
chairman of the committee appointed
by the U. D. C. to mark the site of
the Confederate Navy Yard, deemed
it advisable to give at this time to
the general public a complete account
of the Confedera,te Navy 'Yard at
Charlotte. In compiling the article,
she received much valuable aid from i
many who lived in Charlotte during;
tha't period, and some of whom wer.4
associated Mith the Navy Yard during
its operation in Charlotte. -;
Mr. , H. Ashton Ramsay, formerly
officer in charge of the Navy Yard,
with his residence in Charlotte from
1862 to 1S65, now figiO") contracting
manager of the American Bridge
Company of New York, with headquar-
ters in Baltimore, Md., has furnished
"Early in May 1862. it was deter-
mined to evacuate Norfolk and in or-
der to save some of the tools and
machinery and to continue to manu-
facture ordinance for the navy, a
numbet of the machines, tools, such as
lathes, plaining machines and one
small steam hammer, were hurriedly
shipped to Charlotte, N. C. and Com-
mander John M- Brooke, who was
at that time chief of the ordinance
bureau in Richmond (afterwards trans-
ferred to the army with rank of colo-
nel, and after the war was a professor
at the Virginia Military Institute at
Lexington, Va., where he died) had
asigned to him the United States mint
property on West Trade street, and
a lot located on and bounded by the
railroad tracks of what was then
known as the North Carolina Central
Railroad and close to the station used,
by the S.C. Railroad; this latter
lot extended about 3,000 feet on the
line of the railroad and faced on a side
street parallel with the railroad about
1,000 feet. On tills lot, there was a
small building, which had been occu-
pied as k machine shop, and my rec-
ollection is, that the property was pur-
chased from Capt. John Wilkes.
Capt. R. L. Page, afterward General
Page, was placed in command of the
works, and had his headquarters, and
also his residence, at the U. S. Mint
on West Trade street, where his fam-
ily lived during his administration of
the affairs of the Navy Yard.
"Shortly after the machinery refer-
der to had been forwarded to Char-
lotte, N. C, the 'Meirimac-Vlrginia,'
which had been guarding the ap-
proaches to Norfolk, Va., had to be
distroyed, together with other Con-
federate property at Norfolk, and Capt.
Catesby, Caipt R. Jones and the writer,
(H. Ashton Ramsay) who was chief
engineer of the "Virginia" were order-
ed to Charlotte, N. C, in connection'
with constructing the ordinance works. ■
Subsequently General Page was trans-
ferred to the army and ordered-^to the
.command of Fort Morgan, near Mo-
bile, Ala., and Capt. Jones was ordered
to ordnance works at Selma, Ala., leav-
ing the writer (H. Ashton Ramsay) in
command of the naval station at Char-
lotte, N. C.
A number of large, frame structures
were erected on the property acquir-
: ed, including a' gun-carriage shop, a
laboratory and a torpedo shop, and
a large forge shop, where the largest
steam hammer in the South was built,
and where propeller shafting was
forged lor all the Confederate iron-
clads; "The Virginia No. 11" at Rich-
mond. 'The Albemarle," which suc-
cesfully rammed and distroyed sev-
|eral United States gun boats in the
; Roanoke river; the gun boats built
in Charleston and Savannah; the
iron dads, "Tennessee," "Mobile" and
-other iron dads built at New Orleans;
in fact none of the vessels could have
been constructed had it not been for
I the works at Charlotte. Rifles, solid I
I shot, shell and torpedoes were manu-
ifactured at these works in Charlotte!
|a-nd supplied the batteries of all the'
[Vessds and shore batteries manned
by the Confederate navy.
In the last six months of the war
when General Stoneman burnt Salis-
bury, N. C, and was expected to ad-
vance on Charlotte, the writer (Ram-
sa.^ ), then in command was furnished
with 300 muskets and directed to form
a batalion of three (3) comnanies from
the employes of the naval works and
!to ship as many of the naval stores
and smaller tools as posible on rail-
road cars to Lincolnton, N. C, and
to hold the batallion in readiness to
receive orders froni General Beaure-
gard, to whom this batallion had been
After the burning of Columbia, S. C,
by General Sherman, he advnced to-
ward Charlotte as far as Chester, S.
C, but m the meantime, the remnant
of General Hood's army crossed over
the country and came into Charlotte
over the railroad bridge across the
Catawba river, which we were in-
structed to plank over so the wagon
trains could cross. General Johnston
then assumed command of all the
forces concentrated at Charlotte and
immediately transported his troops
eastward and confronted General
Sherman at Bentonville, where the
last battle was fought and the enemy
checked for the first time since the
capture of Atlanta, Ga. Soon after tbis,
President Jefferson Davis and-; his
cabinet came to Charlotte. N. C, and
for a few days Charlotte was the cap- i
ital of the Confederacy.
Mr. Davis and h-is cabinet started
from Charlotte soon after the sur-
render of General Lee, towards Wash-
ington, Ga., under the escort of Gen-
eral Wheeler's cavalry and one com-
pany of the navy yard batallion under
Capt. Tabb the other companies re-
maining to garrison Charlotte, and
were surrendered together with the
rest of General Johnston's army when
the army capitulated at Greensboro
N. C, April, 1865.
You will note by above, that Char-
lotte, although several times menaced
by hostile forces, and at one time the
central focus of the Confederacy, was
never actually captured by the enemy,
their forces not coming into Charlotte
until after the surrender at Greens-
' (Signed) H. Ashton RAMSEY,
Late Chief Engineer, C. S. N. and
Lieut.-Colonel C. S. A.
Baltimore, Md-, March 1910,
Miss Alexander vvas unable to ob-
tain data concerning Commander John
M. Brooke referred to by Capt. Ram-
sey. Mrs. John Wilkes, one of Char-
lotte's most patriotic and beloved
women at Miss Alexander's request,
prepared the . following sketch
of the Charlotte Navy Yard
This article was read bv Mrs. Wilkes
before the U. D. C, of which she was
one time historian, in April 1910— a
manuscript copy, is filed with the U.
i' D. C. Chapter and it appeared in the
Charlotte Obsehver and The Charlotte
News, April 3rd, 1910.
t Mrs. Wilkes' article reads as fol-
The Confederate Navy Yard |
in Charlotte, N- C,
"As the existence of a navy yard in
Charlotte, N. C, has been doubted and
derided, it is well to tell its story
while there are some persons surviv
ing who know of it and worked in
it. I have found a number of work-
men and persons, whose memory, has
aided mine, and here give a true his-
tory of the Charlotte Navy Yard.
"Soon after the fight between "the
Monitor' and 'The Merimas,' it became
apparent to the Confederate govern-
ment that it would not be possible to
hold Norfolk, Va., and the United
States navy would soon take posses-
sion of the fort and navy yard. So
naval officers were sent to the interior
in the spring of 1862 to select a
site to which all the valuable movable
property in the navy yard would be
taken. They came along the only rail-
road then far enough inland to be
safe, and reached Charlotte, N. C, on
their mission. Both the officers, Capt.
W. D. Murdaugh and, I think, CaptWm.
Parker, were aid friends of my hus-
band, Capt. John Wilkes, during his
fourteen year's service in the United
States navy (1841-1854) and of course,
he met and welcomed them.
"On talking about their request he
showed them a place he rad recently
purchased, lying about 600 feet along
the railroad with 100 feet frontage on
East Trade street. This they thought
exactly suited to the purpose, far
enough inland to be safe from attack
by sea and lying on the only rail-
road which connected Richmond with
the Southern states of the Confeder-
acy. So the Confederate government
bought the property, on promise to pav
"A large quantity of material and
coke ovens, foundry and machine .
shops erected. A wooden landing stage
was built from the yard to the railroad
for convenience in loading and un-
loading. This was carried as far as
the back of the brick building on East
Trade street, near College street to
facilitate the movement of naval
stores and was then and for many
years afterward called 'The Navy
Yard wharf." Subsequently it gave
the name to all the cotton districts
about College street., ' which has al-
ways been known even to this day as-
'The Wharf.' an enduring reminder of
the navy yard in Charlotte. 7 ,
"No large guns were cast' there,]
acording to the testimony of Capt
Aohton Ramsey, who now lives in
Baltimore and who has given us much
information on the subject. He told
of a large trip-hammer, which was
part of the machinery brought from
Norfolk and which was a great curi-
osity here. I well member Capt. Wilkes
taking me to see it work. With one
blow it flattened a mass of iron and
the next the pinderous mass came
down so gently as only to crack an
eg-g, placed under it.
"Many workmen came with the ma-
chinery from Norfolk and their fami-
lies are still with us. Some of -"the ;
names I recall: — '
"B. N. Presscn, R. Culpepper, R. W.
Grimes, H. W. Tatum and many others
Other men of this vicinity entered the
yard, Martin Frazier, Thomas Roberts,
John Garibaldi, John Abernathy, John
Rigler and many more.
"When the navy became a thing of
the, past, many of these staunch and
good men entered Capt. Wilkes' serv-
ice in the Mecklenburg Iron Works,
where they remained until death, or
forty (40) years afterward. in7890$. .
infirmity terminated their labors forty
subject of great gratification to Capt.
Wilkes that his workmen were so
long in his service. Many of the above
list, as well as some excellent colored
men. v/ere with him until their death,
and no strikes of discontent ever dis-
turbed their cordial relations.
"One small gun was brought
from Norfolk and passed with other
material to the Mecklenburg Iron
Works. For many years it was used in
the celebrations and parades, but fear-
ing it might burst and injure some
one, Captain Wilkes ha4 it broken
When Richmond was taken by the
Federal army Mrs. Jefferson Davis
and her family were in Charlotte, the
house on North Brevard street (north-
east corner) and East Fifth street,
having been rented for her use. When
the news reached here the authorities
prepared to remove the specie from
the treasury and other valuables sent
here for safe keeping. Mrs. Davis in-
sisted on accompanying the train with
her children and her niece. The men
at the navy yard were formed into i,.
company as marines, armed / ' and
equipped as well as could be and
ordered out to guard the treasure train.
Capt. Wri- Parker was in command.
Just before they left he brought his
old sword to me, asking me to keep
it for him, and it still hangs in my
The train went by rail to Chester,
S. C, and then took up the march for
the West. Forty-two (42) wagons with
fifty-five (.^5) men on guard, carried
the specie. Mrs. Davis and family
and the government officials were in
carriages and on horseback. They
marched as far as Cokesville a village,
beyond Augusta, Ga., and then were
ordered back to Newberry. S. C, where
the iron-bound boxes of specie were
put in bank. It was a cold, rainy night
and Mr. W. S. Culpepper recalls with
pleasure a gracious act of Mrs. Davis.
.,He, a young fellow of 17 or 18 years,
was detailed as guard at the door of
a little church wlMfe her family was
spending the night.J^s. Davis came to
the door, bringing him a glass of wine,
saying he must be cold and wet, and
this was all she could do for him.
The next day the officials wanted to
pay off the 55 men of the guard with
pennies, but, remembering the weary
tramp back to Charlotte the men de-
clined the offer and nevei- received any
pay for their labor. i
A few days later, in April, 1865, Pres- 1
ident Davis and his cabinet came to
Charlotte and for a few days this
was the capital of the Confederate
States. One of the last declarations
and cabinet meeting was held iu
the building now occupied by the Char-
lotte Observer — then the bank, and
some of their last acts were sealed and
I After the news of President Lincoln's
j assassination was received the govern-
ment broke u-p and the officers dispcrs-
• ed. President Davis set out to over-
'take his family and the sequel is his-
The navy yard was abandoned and
when the Federal forces marched into
Charlotte, it Mas taken possession of
by the United States government as
was the mint and all the stores of the
Later, Captain Wilkes was permitted '
to repurchase his own property (the.
Confederacy never having paid him for
Its use) at a reasonable rate. There
he established the Mecklenburg Iron;
Works which occupied the site for!
10^ years, from April, 1865 to April, I
1S75. The last > castings were made
there on the day of our big fire April
JANE RENWICK WILKES.
March 1910. (Mrs. Jolin Wilkes.)
Mr. P. P. Zimmerman of the Meek- 1
lenburg Iron Works, a "life-time resi.,
dent of Charlotte, and one of her mostf
honored citizens, gave Miss Alexander!
invaluable aid in her researches for
data and furnished her with the fol-|
lowing list of men who came to Char- 1
lotte with the removal of the naval
works from Norfolk. Mrs. Wilkes has
made mention of some of them and
paid a fine tribute to their sterling
worth and fine loyalty. The list of
names given by Mr. Zimmerman is as
follows : I
Ruben Culpepper. i
W. E. Culpepper. i
Henry W. Tatum.
Clay Guy. '
James Recketts. i
George W. Thompson, sr.
Charles L. Walker.
George W. Gleason, jr.
T. J. Roake jr.
R. M. Grimes.
B. M. Presson.
John W. Owens.
George W. Thomas, jr
George W. Gleason, or.
G. J. Rooke, sr.
Unfortunately, it has been impos-.
sible to secure a complete roster of I
the men who came to Charlotte with'
the naval works, and who served |
here from 1862 to 1865 part of that
time as members of the three compa-
nies of marines. Mr. Zimmerman re- 1
calls the names of 51 men, all skilled!
workmen, who came to Charlotte from'
Norfolk in 1862. There were many!
others of whom we have no record,
who either died, returned to Norfolk
after the war, or moved elsewhere;
as We learn from Capt. H. Ashton Ram '
sey that he was in command of three
(3) companies organized from the meni
of this navy yard. j
Capt. Wm. B. Taylor formerly city
tax collector, and one of Charlotte's'
best known veterans, a member of
the Mecklenburg Camp of Confederate
Veterans, tells us that Thomas Dwyer,
who came to Charlotte from Norfolk
with the navy yard men, invented a
machine for turning a [:erfect sphere,
a cannon ball or shell. It was the
first successful invention of its kind
and was used in the Charlotte navy
yard. This valuable invention was
confiscated by the United States gov-|
ernmeni and put into use in the Unit-j
ed States navy yards, no credit or'
remuneration ever being given to the
S outh'^rn Inventor. j
CapCH. Ashton Ramsey was the offi.
cer in charge of the navy yard and Mr.
Peters was in charge of the naval
store located at the corner of East
Trade street and South College street,
convenient to the navy yard. Captain
Richard L. Page was the commandant
in charge of the entire station, with his
official residence at the United States
mint, on W^t Trade street, the latter,
building having been seized by the
Confederate forces and was heldhy|
them until the and of the war. Here
resid-ed with Captain Page his neice,'
Miss Edmonia Neilsou who is still i
living, at present a resident of Norfolk.'
Miss Alexander had much correspond-,
ence with Miss Neilson regarding her'
residence in Charlotte, and she recall-
ed those stormy days most distinctly,
and gave many interesting and'fexcit-
ing episodes. She is indebted to iMss
Neilson for the fololwing valuable quo-
tation from "The Confederate States
Naval History," by Prof. J. Thomas
Scharf, A. M., L. L. D., who says:
"General Page entered the United
States navy as a midshipman in 1824.
He served the United States ' navy
until 1861, then a Virginian by birth,
he. cast his lot with the Confederacy,
arid entered the Confederate States
navy, June 10th, 1S61, with commission
;jpf commander, acting as ordnance offi-
iier of the Norfolk navy yard until the
evacuation of that place by the Con-
federates. After the evacuation ' of
Norfolk Commander Page was promot-
ed to the rank of captain, and with
;;the machinery and men removed from
the' Norfolk' sbops, established the
ordnance and construction depot at
Charlotte, N. C, which, under his ad-
ministration became of inestimable val
ue to the Confederacy."
Miss Alexander has in her possession
a wooden anchor and also a wooden
cup, which were turned in the wood-
working department of Charlotte navy
yard and presented by Captain Page
to her aunt Miss M. Sophie Alexau
der, on one occasion when he was
showing a party of ladies through thu
navy yard. The naval officers station-
ed in in Charlotte from 1862-1865 were
highly educated and cultured men and
i they, Nvith their families, received
' much social attention from the resi-
(ients of the town.
The present owners ' of this historic
naval site, the S. A. L. railroad' .\Ver'-;
ccmmunicated with and permission
was asked by the Stonewall Jackson
Chapter, U. D. C. to place the marker.
The following reply was received:
"I have no objection to the Stone-
wall Jackson Chapter, U. D. C. erect-
ing an iron tablet either at our freight
depot building, at Charlotte, N. C. or
in the yard near, the siilewlak referred
to in your letter, the understanding be-
ing that should the property ever pass
cut of the hands of the Seaboard Air
Line railway, that your chapter have
the privilege of removing the marker,
if so desired.
"Before putting it i:p I would sug-
gest that you tak^ the matter up with
our Charlotte agent, Mr. W. S. Bradley.
Yours very truly,
(Signed) "C. H. HIX,
"V.-P. & G. M:, S. A. L. Ry.
''Portsmouth, Va. March 24, 1910."
Mr. W. S. Bradley, Charlotte agent
of the S. A. L. railway, kindly ac-
fjuiesced and assisted ihe U. D. C. in
;ocating the marker on the northwest
Lorner of the large brick building of
the S. A. L, freight depot, facing East
Trade street. It is frequently visited
by strangers in our city who for the
first time have heard of the Charlotte
navy yard — thus the marker is serv-
ing its purpose of preserving history
and instructing our youth and visi-
tors in the remarkable fact, which is
strangely unique_ that our inland
•Queen City'' had a navy yard from
Compiled and written by
» VIOLET G. ALEXANDER.
Charlotte, N. C, June 3, 1910.